Words are good enough for me…

words2Words are good enough for me…

Living this way is more than a creed – it’s like air to the lungs… like air to my lungs. But bad words – the bad use of words – seems pure evil to me, and I can’t get beyond it (that’s my burden to live with, or die with).

Words are good enough for me, so I play with them.

Words are good enough for me, so I let them play with me.

Words are good enough for me…

Workman by Day
A nobody to professors, a workman by day
this subtlety ordinary man said we write
(if we do) for others and not ourselves;
a simple diversion for the wordy perversion
making things fit snug like a girdle once did,
hiding things curvy, restraining and deceiving
the favors like adverbs for our great, untidied
neighbors, their reading a passion for our
weakened fashion of night’s haunts which
scare us awake and forced to contemplate
the nightmares of failures and adult scares
which only verse hides what sunlight chides.

Thoughts and Thoughts
A thought that can be thought
without something thoughtful to be done
is no thought at all, but a mere pretender;
thoughts which generate no ideas
and make the weak weep, the simple
comfortable, and the frail cringe at whims
like wishes so all beggars ride. Puzzled and
rancorous ideas are harmless excuses of
unexamined life, a sermon looking for life
in the service of paranoid, naval-gazing
called spirituality, pharmacology without
diagnosis, life without death,
desire without lust, and obedience without
ignorance. Ruined lives litter the path of
thoughts, bitter disciples
are casualties of this pedagogy,
angry tears are learners’ lovers, hemlock
cocktails mixed by the bartender of the many.

And I Quote
What is a quote to be quoted
and to whom does it belong?
those marks somehow borrow
what I wish was my song;
what I want as my own
but someone found before,
almost perfect way of words
I must have, and I adore;
sometimes because of who
but I prefer what is said,
the world is but objects,
not facts’ means instead;
picture what is or is not,
but what is written is read
stop asking what it means
or you’ll always be misled;
while I will quote as I wish
call me a plagiarist as well
all’s words and other words
not things we jsut misspell.

 

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The joy of words…

neologismIt’s not there are just so many words to go around, or that all the good ones have been used up. It’s just nice to say something new with new words (instead of saying something new with old words).

Neologism
It’s not a word – that’s fully understood,
but there are a few that should have life,
should begin outside of some Germanic
compound strung together with
lieben and –itzes; for there is more and
more that should be; new ways out of
old, as neologisms’ bricoleurs put together
what we’ve left broken, thrown away.

And I Quote
What is a quote to be quoted
and to whom does it belong?
those marks somehow borrow
what I wish was my song;
what I want as my own
but someone found before,
almost perfect way of words
I must have, and I adore;
sometimes because of who
but I prefer what is said,
the world is but objects,
not facts’ means instead;
picture what is or is not,
but what is written is read
stop asking what it means
or you’ll always be misled;
while I will quote as I wish
call me a plagiarist as well
all’s words and other words
not things we jsut misspell.

The worst missionary ever…

samuel-zwemer460Samuel Zwemer – missionary to Bahrain and Egypt, founder of Arabian mission and editor of The Moslem World for 38 years, professor of missions at Princeton Theological Seminary and internationally popular speaker and advocate of missions for over 60 years, famous for his quote: “the history of missions is the history of answered prayer” – was arguably one of the greatest failures on the mission field with less than a dozen known converts to Christian faith.

Whether it’s defensiveness or faithfulness, Zwemer is still regarded as a hero. Hailed as another example of Hebrews 11:39, “commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.” It’s easier in hindsight to champion Zwemer’s cause of hand-wringing in the face of the insurmountable, but it’s hard to imagine funding his ministry today, or raising support for 40 years of work on the field with fewer than a dozen success stories.

Zwemer embraced the debate over differing measures of success, complaining often of inefficiencies even while heralding a career of relative fruitlessness. Toward the end of his teaching career, he mused: “The printed page is a missionary that can go anywhere and do so at minimum cost. It enters closed lands and reaches all strata of society. It does not grow weary. It needs no furlough. It lives longer than any missionary. It never gets ill. It penetrates through the mind to the heart and conscience. It has and is producing results everywhere. It has often lain dormant yet retained its life and bloomed years later.”

Regardless of Zwemer’s own stewardship message, his biography does show what is the most compelling feature of his ministry – the alignment of his ministry and message.

And what was Zwemer message? This son of a Reformed pastor, young Zwemer unapologetically proclaimed that the task of evangelism was to identify the elect, and the chief end of missions is not simply the salvation of people but the glory of God (or the glory of God in the salvation of sinners, as he later said).

Late in his career, he wrote an essay titled, “The Glory of the Impossible,” in which he portrayed the discouraging, prohibitive and insurmountable obstacles to Christian mission among Muslims. He said, true faith is that “which enables the missionary to look upward with confidence and see by faith the future result of…toil; a world where statistics are inadequate to express realities, where finance and budgets have lost all significance, and gold is used for paving-stones.” (Zwemer, “The Glory of the Impossible,” The Princeton Seminary Bulletin, 1949, 16)

But Zwemer didn’t mislead anyone it seems. His message of God’s sovereignty-explains-evangelism was his response to detractors, and his dig-in-your-heels-because-God-is-sovereign approach motivated generosity, and some fame. But the question remains, after you’ve exhausted deep Dutch pockets from Orange City, Pella, New Holland and Grand Rapids, where do you turn?

When writers fail at being writers…

8hSdXHUOWriters Fail – A Confession

It’s simple as an aphorism –
writers fail because we write of
who we want to be
unconsciously trying to blot out
who we really are;
I take it from my failures
as a writer this is true of me,
so I wish to offer a true 

and unvarnished confession
on behalf of writers everywhere,
and it reads as follows:

“I (who ever that is) freely confess,
under no coercion whatsoever,
save that of desperately hoping
to be successful as a writer,
that heretofore (as in, since
whenever cursed moment I dreamed
I could write something so that
others would call me a writer)
have lied to myself and those
who suffered through my pages
of fanciful fabrications
wherein fiction was forced
into fiction that would not fit,
and all such alliterations
attempting to allude the
aphorism about fiction and
reality or reality and fiction
attributable to Camus, Emerson,
Woolf, and it appears,
every successful writer who
has an opinion on the matter;
I write fictions of my own life
because I’m lost and think
that with words that are not
my own I will find better words
and a better life than my own;
I thus apologize with all
sincerity until such time as
I begin another memoir
of someone I am not and
could never hope to be.”

Amen.

 

How to…

time lifeIt dates back to the 1960s and a Time Life series of ‘how to’ books which became wildly popular – how to unclog a drain, hammer a nail, fix a squeaky door hinge, install a garbage disposal, build a deck. And we bought them all. The How-To craze had begun and we were all for it.

Soon ‘how to’ became self-help and do-it-yourself merged with challenges, campaigns and that e-mail spam which promises everything from a firmer butt to millions from an African royal official (if we share our bank information).

There are tens of thousands of books with ‘How to’ in the title. Many are still concerned with good, old fashioned repairs like repairing a Briggs and Stratton engine, but most are about how to do more ordinary, everyday things like live better, accomplish more, sleep sounder or organize everything.

Today we call ‘how to’ the promised land of a #lifehack.

We’re not talking about becoming experts in life, maybe on life and that’s what’s become of us. What we’re all after is sensible enough. It’s where we all get to eventually, some later than others but everyone eventually…we’re all trying to survive life. ‘How-to’ stuff isn’t much about electric current or refrigeration repair. It is more about reconfiguring spaces, reclaiming your days, weekends, weeks and thereby reclaiming yourself. And the best part is that it doesn’t matter if what you wind up with doesn’t even come close to a certain plan, a received design or perceived goal. The activity itself is open-ended and prohibits failure (the only failure is not to have tried at all). If schools without failure are simply those institutions of baby-sitting we used to call colleges and universities, then ‘how-to’ and ‘for dummies’ literature is for a life without failure where the only disappointment is going through life without trying to be your real self (whatever the hell that may be).

How-to books used to be called novels and reading narratives was how most people learned how they might live, how to avoid ruin and peril and despair, how they might survive hard times with nobility and virtue intact, how to do well and how to do better. When narratives and fictions were done poorly they generalized and moralized as directly and bluntly as a step-by-step guide to multiple male orgasms. History books are no better with their god-like noble-izing about why everything happened the way it did (Monday morning quarterbacking and 20/20 hindsight never enjoyed as great an academic justification as history classes). Even history must give way to genealogy; just as poor novels must yield to healthy (and sometimes hard to follow) narratives. In our present climate of reading it has become too hard, too difficult, to novelize and narrate one’s life or to learn from someone else’s life because a story doesn’t prepare a plan for us. If the motto of how-to-ing is measure twice, cut once, then the moral of (good) novels is keep measuring, cut often, and try measuring once just for the thrill of it once-in-a-while. The suspicion from how-to-ers is, of course, that narratives keep measuring and never get to the cutting.

To Be Read S L O W L Y

Don’t you hate
being told how to
read, how to enjoy,
how to be you; it’s like
being told how to
breathe or piss,
both as necessary
and both problematic
eventually, so do
try not to hate
being told to do
the things we will
forget one day soon.

Anonymity and other unknown things… (part 1)

Anonymous_4The weight of anonymity is a crushing load to the egoist; a blessed burden for the insecure; and a career obstacle for any and all who wish their mediocre product to be thought magnificent by virtue of reputation.

Without Fame
His name was never known
never asked or in demand;
he nameless lived and died
after countless seeds sown
tending the many firsthand
famously fame denied.

What Isn’t There
How many a writer or poet has been ruined
by reading Thoreau’s Walden only to retreat
to her own obscure pond and wait for those
pronounced feelings of nature, god and life,
perched before a blank page, ready to write
infamous words that will change everything
about seeing the sun rise, or a low moon,
the seasonal wrenching of life from death,
or death from life in the anonymous vacuum,
only to end a long, lonely day exhausted
and uninspired by the page called life
with no words to express what isn’t there.

Please share this with your friends! Thank you…

Look for Anonymity and other unknown things… (part 2) coming soon

Dead authors everywhere (thank God)…

death-of-the-authorAuthors are meant to be dead. Not just ‘die’ as if they every controlled their work product with intentions, authority, biography, and situation in life (go ahead, impress me with the German phrase, I dare you). Authors are meant to be dead – gone, unable to control, opine, correct, approve, and/or denounce the silliness of readers.

Roland Barthes didn’t kill authors, just the abstract category of ‘the author’ (and Barthes has both died and is dead – that’s according to Roland Barthes, I guess – Oh, the twisted irony of it all).

Dear Author
It has taken me all month to finish your novel,
the one about two friends who were once close
but for some unexplained reason are no longer,
living lives vaguely dependent on each other
in some mysterious, invisible cosmic fellowship
which you take six hundred pages to explain,
how once they finished the other’s thoughts,
liked the same ordinary, everyday things
which fill lives without reason or purpose
but define idiosyncrasies like dental records,
they both had a bad experience wisdom teeth,
girlfriends, tomatoes, an inability to finish things
like friendships until they meet again on a train,
airport bound and discover nothing’s changed,
just older and fatter and both flying to Houston
for the same trade show, one selling, one buying,
same hotel, both divorced, kids indifferent
and unimpressed by life, they should grab a bite,
catch-up, where has the time gone, etc.,
but they never see each other it turns out,
and that’s okay – that’s how you end the novel,
and the dust jacket is dotted with quotes
from famous authors, all filled with praise
about how this is the Great American Novel,
because this is America according to everyone.

X
I can say X is red
or X instead;
because what’s real
is what we steal
from authors dead
but well said,
both/and and lost
found with a cost
that I will pay
every single day
until words mean
not what they seem
to Dumpty’s many
egg’s a plenty
toppled from walls
ruining school halls
angering teachers
pleasing preachers
who always search
for sin’s church
of truth’s facts
but object acts
baffling thoughtless
fearful, cautious
realists all
of Adam’s fall
who hear a word
and jump stirred
by a fear of living
and God unforgiving.

It is what it is (and other lies they tell us)…

Doris DayYes, it’s a lie. Always has been, always will be.

It is what it is.

That’s the lie.

It’s used to give up. To teach us to give up. Accept and not except. Let go to get by.

It’s called providence or sovereignty or fate or determinism or the status quo or City Hall or Que Sera, Sera (if you’re Doris Day – which I’m not).

It’s called the Serenity Prayer (if you’re Reinhold Niebuhr).

It’s called history and what is is what had to be (if you’re Augustine of Hippo).

It’s called metanarrative (if you’re any kind of modernist – and that’s just about everybody these days, as amazing as that sounds).

And it’s a lie. Always has been, always will be.

It Is What It Is
Starting a new religion usually takes effort,
not necessarily consistency, proof or fact,
just data and anecdotes, which means
listening and creating at the same time;
it’s an interpretive exercise most ignore
because of the difficulty of thinking anew,
and we’re really driven by insecurity and
the need for followers, but not this one;
it won’t matter if a single soul converts,
nothing will change if everyone changes,
because whatever happens will happen
in the new religion of it is what it is.

Boredom is cool…

bored spaghetti o'sThe word doesn’t begin to appear in dictionaries until the late 1850’s, and it was first used to describe the influence of industrialization, mechanisms, and technology. Boredom is our problem, exacerbated by the experience of connectivity.

Boredom has three uses: weariness with repetition, leisure time, and alienation resulting from impersonal social existence (a Marxist idea, but still an idea – http://pubs.socialistreviewindex.org.uk/isj79/cox.htm). It’s most closely associated with early adulthood – from high school to early college years, and then it reappears in mid-life crises. And it is most often described as a dissatisfaction with life (as in, the quality of life), Boredom is what we call the feeling that something is missing or we’re missing something.

And boredom is cool… sort of… if you think about it…

David Foster Wallace

When David Foster Wallace wrote about
boredom, he did so in a tedious way – shaking an
angry fist at the storm as it roared around,
daring to be consumed, defiant enough to breathe
in the air of monotony and exhaling the
excitement of crafting a three-page sentence;
immune to tedium but not unawares,
certain it would be unpublishable except for the
reason that he was David Foster Wallace.


Boredom

The word is new,
a product of the industrial revolution,
to capture monotony and
the small-mindedness
which would rule us with reasons to
bemoan our own
passivity, daring others to
divert us with things we’re told
are meaningful, convinced
by others to desire,
and the greatest loss is the will to
choose for ourselves
what will be loved
in the new melancholy of boredom.

Robert Frost on Robert Frost…

Robert Frost (1874-1963) lived long enough, and wrote long enough to give critics something to talk about – late Romantic and modern, 19th and 20th century, developing modern idiom but in the voice of nineteenth century, avoids traditional verse and erratic use of rhyme, adopts New England regionalism and avoids provincialism. Oh, Robert Frost, you are so you and only you!

That’s what’s called ‘finding one’s voice’ and so few do it’s worth praising. Unfortunately, it’s also cause for imitation – the irony. How Frost found Frost’s voice is typically a combination of critics’ criticism and poet’s self reflection – both of which bring into question whether the ‘voice’ is genuine or simply a figment of the imagination (both critics’ and poet’s).

Frost said, in true romantic form, “It begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a loneliness. It is never a thought to begin with. It is at its best when it is a tantalizing vagueness” (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/robert-frost). For instance, when Frost gave an account of his most famous verse, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, (published on March 7, 1923 in The New Republic), he called it “My best bid for remembrance” (whatever that means, and what it means is whatever Frost says it means – thus, ‘tantalizing vagueness’).

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow. 

The night before Frost composed “Stopping”, he had stayed up all night to complete a poem he named “New Hampshire” which he was very happy about. It was June, no snow at all, and a pleasant dawn so Frost went out to watch the sun rise; an idea struck him and he (in contrast to his long labors on “New Hampshire”) wrote “Stopping” without pause (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/171621).

There’s a horse, a farmhouse, bells, a frozen lake, wind and snow (of course). Frost said “It was as if I’d had a hallucination.”

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep. 

In other accounts Frost’s long struggle with poverty and notoriety (he lacked it, he said), serve as psychological explanations of the “miles to go before I sleep”, while occasionalist critics note the sleepless night working on “New Hampshire” as a more obvious explanation. And others ‘hear’ the voice of death at the heart of life in the “woods are lovely (life), dark and deep (death).” Frost said in still another account that “Stopping” was the kind of work for one page with forty pages of notes on it following. Everything is nothing and everything – that’s Frost’s voice, according to Frost.

Here’s my own Frost-on-Frost version of Frost:

Frost and Boots

I ran across Robert Frost in the woods
and he commented on my boots –
how fine they were for such a day
and the excellent way in which they
carried me about in this snowy way
lacking a horse bedonned with bells
on this darkest night of this year
and I thought it queer if not varied
he noted, with such a simple cheer
they’d be great in which to be buried.